Music Publishers and the New Songwriter

In the earlier days of the music industry, few performing and recording acts wrote their own material. Thus, publishers were an important source of songs for artists and an attractive home for the non-performing writer.

Today, many publishers have broadened aspirations, assuming roles that in former times were not typically their domain. For example, publishers are more interested than they used to be in writers who are also performing/recording artists, since there is a greater inherent potential for such a writer’s songs to get recorded and released into the public sphere.

Through their connections in the industry and because of their desire to see the song material gain exposure, a publisher may even arrange performance showcases for an artist-writer at industry events, assist them with things like online promotion and marketing, or perhaps finance a recording project and help them get a label deal. They may even have a record label division of their own.

If you are a singer-songwriter or band and believe you need help in the area of developing your market as an act, then think about looking for a publisher who is inclined toward taking on that role. Some do, but many don’t. Those that do will see it in their interest to get you and your album(s) out before the public because they earn royalties from your songs they control.

Some publishers will even go so far as to help the artist in the area of talent development if they believe the act has significant merit beyond songwriting, taking on a singer-songwriter or “baby” band and helping develop them to the point where they are ready to be presented to a major label or prominent independent. That can be a big advantage for the act because a respected publisher will commonly have more clout than either the artist themselves or their manager in terms of getting the serious attention of a record company.

Having said all this, unsigned writers face a rather stark reality these days in the publishing world: many of the established players in the field are just not that hungry for new songwriters, however talented.

At a Vancouver Music Festival & Conference I participated in not too many years ago, a representative of one of the World’s biggest independent publishers proffered that at most they sign only one or two writers a year in Canada. I suspect that her company’s level of interest in taking on new writers is reflective of the general attitude in many countries of most, if not all, of the upper-tier publishing firms.

So, if a lot of the bigger publishers these days aren’t signing very many new writers, what does that mean for you if you seek a publishing deal but have no track record to speak of? Well, your situation is not unlike that of the relatively raw unsigned music act searching for a label deal. It probably doesn’t make much sense to focus your expectations and efforts on soliciting interest from the big boys–certainly not to the exclusion of the newer, sometimes more aggressive and innovative kids on the block who are helping to fill the void.

I welcome your comments and questions.

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